|The hierarchy of book reading joys:
1. A captivating and charming book (more about this below);
2. By an author not previously read (not sure why – just never noticed her);
3. The last of a series, but stands alone nicely (thus three previous series books to anticipate and relish);
4. These three books are a proverbial drop in the backlist bucket (the author has 18 previous novels, both contemporary and historical).
The last in the Griffin family series, Sins of a Duke is the story of the eldest sibling, Sebastian, the Duke of Melbourne. His younger brothers and sisters were married off in the previous three “Sin” books, leaving the widowed 34-year old and his charming almost-eight-year-old daughter Penelope (Lady Peep) alone together. Sebastian has been a duke for fully half of his life, having inherited the title at age 17. He has been without a wife, and Lady Peep without a mother, for four years, since the death of his wife from a wasting illness. Sebastian loved her, he cherishes her memory, and he imagines that the remainder of his life will be filled by his concern for his siblings, their spouses and children, his own darling daughter, and the enormous and serious responsibilities he shoulders for crown and country. There has been a Griffin supporting the rulers of England for as long as there has been an England (and all the way back to the Romans, apparently). Unimpeachable reputation, duty, loyalty – all this is about to go out the window.
Princess Josefina Katarina Embry has come to London with her parents, the Rey and Queen of Costa Habichuela. Once a military man, Stephen Embry was given ownership of the land on the eastern coast of Central America – and the status of ruler or Rey – by Qental, the “Mosquito King” (supposedly named for the islands, not the insect, but one wonders). This newly crowned royal family is in England to form a relationship with the government and raise money by issuing investment bonds. It also appears that they are there to form an unbreakable alliance with an old, respectable family of the nobility through a carefully arranged marriage for the Princess. The Prince Regent asks Melbourne to serve as the government’s liaison to the nascent nation, an appointment that Sebastian resents from the moment it is given, as it will require him to be in the presence of the sultry, intense, challenging and seductive Princess. She is clearly outside of his normal experience. He suspects that all is not at it seems with the newly minted Royals, and begins nosing around to see what he can find.
Sebastian and Josefina are fantastic, both separately and together. While the duke is in the model of all the “eldest brother, inherited the title while young, meddles in his siblings’ affairs, does not intend to fall in love himself because (fill in the blank),” he is somehow more interesting in that role than one would expect, compared to the standard. He doesn’t insist on a pathological level of control, doesn’t have iron-bound control over his own emotions, and he seems to have more intimate, loving relationships with the siblings and in-laws. Their attempts to “protect” him are touching. There is enough detail about them that they stand as full-fledged characters, but not so much that they interfere with the telling of this story, which is fully comprehensible without knowledge of the earlier books. Best of all might be Sebastian’s relationship with Lady Peep, who is a shrewd, articulate, semi-bossy little thing, unfailingly polite and proper, but with the bit of an edge one would expect to see in the only child of a duke.
The plot requires that Josefina be initially more mysterious and thus more slowly revealed. While she is being revealed, her character also evolves, allowing her to become more and more interesting. The only child of a man who is more than a little bit of an adventurer, she has been increasingly involved in his plans (more like schemes) to achieve what he feels he deserves; he has always been a nobleman in a commoner’s body, as her mother the Queen explains. Josefina is both smart and intelligent, an excellent student of the human condition. She knows what she needs to do to support dear old dad in his efforts, but finds herself increasingly uncomfortable doing so. Shave a couple of years off her age to seem more appealing? Done. Agree to marry a duke of her father’s choosing to advance his plans? Done with a quibble here and there. Keep silent while lives are put at risk? Crosses the line.
Sebastian and Josefina together are quite interesting. They have that electric energy connection thing going on from the very first meeting, but both know that the other is absolutely wrong for them and will bring them more trouble than pleasure. Both also find the other to be totally compelling and irresistible. There is a skirmish, major or minor, at every single one of their meetings. These are not mindless, annoying clashes; they actually serve to advance the relationship and the plot.
And that plot is so masterfully complex that it actually had me stymied. There appeared to be no way to get to happily-ever-after. It unfolds at a perfect pace, neither dumping out details in waves nor obscuring them so long that the dread big, hairy secret threatens. Be advised, though – do not skim any of the technical detail, as it is crucial to understanding the resolution and necessary tidying-up.
Ah, the pure joy of finding a new author; I’m off to Amazon.